Shine on, you crazy diamond

It’s a cutthroat world out there, kids. At least, that’s what we’ve been taught. And that’s what we journalism majors have especially been taught.

Here at the Missouri School of Journalism we don’t even attempt to hide the ugly truth. Professors drill into our heads the bleak facts: There are a finite number of journalism majors. There a finite number of journalism jobs. The number of jobs is significantly smaller than the number of people who want them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected percent change in employment for reporters and correspondents is -13 percent. (Yes, percents can be negative.)

A rash of internship program closures, led by Condé Nast, means that summer and school year internships are even harder to come by. Remaining programs are flooded with applications from journo-hopefuls. Competition is fierce.

In this corner, weighing in at 115 lbs, is trendy magazine writer number one. Her wits are sharp as her Mirado Black Warrior pencils and she’s cranked out more story ideas in a week than you will in your career. In this corner, at 127 lbs, trendy magazine writer number two gnashes her teeth and rips out her notebook. Its spiral edges are ripe for opening gashes in human flesh. 

Ready, set, fight! 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

So says Ann Friedman, writer and public speaker extraordinaire, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during her campus visit this week. She and Aminatou Sow spoke at the Women’s Leadership Conference. What they had to say changed my perception of the journalism industry.

It’s called Shine Theory. It means that, if someone around you such as a friend or colleague succeeds wildly, you succeed wildly, too. You can be *gasp* genuinely happy for them because you know that they are an extension of your ideas and you’re an extension of theirs.

Shine Theory means that you build a community of awesome people. These people bounce ideas around, are in constant communication, and have deep, meaningful relationships with each other. They vie for each others’ success and communally promote each others’ reputations. They root for each other because if one of them shines, they all shine.

Here are the three key tactics to Shine Theory:

1.) Kiss down, not up. It’s great to build relationships with older, respected journalists and editors, but it’s even greater to befriend young up-and-comers. They have fresh ideas and fresh ways to implement them. Keep an eye on the younglings. Promote them. When you’re old and irrelevant, they might offer you a job. 

2.) Ask and offer. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors, but always offer something in return. At the conference, Ann and Amina had us turn to the person next to us and implement this. I got some more sources for a story I’m writing. My friend Ciara got a ride home to Chicago for spring break. It’s a give-and-take, people.

3.) Share the wealth. If you turn down an opportunity, recommend a friend instead. If you hear of a job that would be perfect for someone you know, tell them about it. This can be as simple as making introductions or hitting the ‘forward’ button on an email.

Imagine, just for a second, that we all did this. Imagine that we built our peers up instead of competing with them for limited resources. (This ties into the theory of horizontal loyalty, which is also worth imbibing.) Imagine if, like Ann, we each had a tab on our blog promoting our friends.

What a brave new journo world it would be.

Shine on, you crazy diamond